The fight for Sure Start centres can only grow xx xx xx

COMMENT: Attraction will capitalise on the riches in our midst

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We suspect that a lot more shots are yet to be fired in the growing war over the future of Sure Start centres across Hampshire.

If Hampshire County Council wasn’t already convinced that it has a major battle on its hands, then it surely should be now with the news that councillors are joining forces in a move to force an emergency debate on the issue.

They want an opportunity to press for reconsideration of the decision made last February to lop £6m from its Sure Start budget and to transfer the running of some of the centres out of council hands.

The county says it needs to reallocate to other children’s services some of the previously ring-fenced Whitehall grant for the centres, which the Government says needs to be refocused on an original aim of helping the most disadvantaged families.

In Hampshire, that would mean reducing the number of managed centres by more than a quarter.

Paradoxically, in Portsmouth there is no move to merge any of the centres, because despite a reduction in spending, the city council has pledged to keep open existing facilities.

Ultimately, the war that is being waged will centre on the county council’s willingness to fully engage people in the decision-making process.

It is already facing legal action by one Gosport mother who says that the budget decision has already been taken, and therefore the public consultation being carried out at present is a pointless exercise that does not satisfy the council’s legal requirement to engage its electorate in the decision.

Altering the decision will not be easy, given that the county has already set its budget. But that is a problem for those elected to run our affairs, rather than for the families who are set to lose a valuable service.

The county council needs to find a solution to this problem. In doing so, we hope that it recognises that the most vulnerable in our community deserve the most help – and that the growing campaign against the decision is based on a real concern for the future of hundreds of families.